College couple creates fund for art and photography

As husband and wife, history professor Michael J. Birkner ’72 P’10 and library director Robin Wagner P’10 share much of their personal and professional lives. As employees of Gettysburg, they contribute a great deal to the College; as donors, they have created an endowment to share their interest in art and to help Gettysburg move forward.

“I wish we had enough money to endow the construction of an art gallery,” says Wagner. “Since we don’t, we thought we could start by helping the college establish its own permanent collection of art and photography.”

Birkner notes, “We believe a high quality college needs such a collection both for teaching and scholarly purposes. Robin and I wanted to invest in a vibrant but under resourced enterprise at the College.”

“This endowment will allow students to gain more curatorial opportunities and incredible first-hand access to works of art,” said Shannon Egan, the Director of Schmucker Art Gallery.

Find out more about previous student curators Emily Francisco '14 and Molly Reynolds '14.

The first purchase with this new endowment, established in May of 2012, is a work by noted artist Kara Walker, entitled Exodus of Confederates from Atlanta, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated).

“As a historian I find it powerful image. As someone who is interested in art I find it intriguing and instructive. I am just delighted with the committee’s choice,” said Birkner as he admired Walker’s piece at the inaugural exhibition on October 29.

View a gallery of photos from the October exhibition on Flickr.

Walker is a prominent contemporary artist and MacArthur Foundation Achievement Award recipient. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

“By choosing to acquire work by an artist who is represented in the most prominent museums and collections in the world, we hope to ensure that the collection at Gettysburg College is ambitious, academically focused, and widely respected,” Egan said. “This fund truly enhances Gettysburg College’s status and establishes a real and discerning commitment to the arts.”

The Schmucker Art Gallery Collections Committee recognized the importance of Walker’s work and exhibited a series of her prints last spring in a show, Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), on loan from Middlebury College.

For each print in the series, Walker enlarged illustrations from Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War, first published in 1866, and overlaid her own silhouettes of distorted and fragmented black bodies to subvert narrative of the original work. Gettysburg College owns a copy of the original 1866 edition, which is housed in Special Collections and was on loan for the exhibition last spring.

“We are fortunate to have a copy of this historic work right on campus for students and faculty to consult,” said Wagner. “It served as a perfect complement to last spring’s exhibition.” For example, while Exodus of Confederates from Atlanta was on display in the gallery, faculty from various departments, including Africana studies, history, sociology, and English brought classes in to view Walker’s work and share their reactions.

Walker’s interest in the depiction of the American Civil War coincides with the commemoration of the sesquicentennial anniversary (2011-2015).

Exodus of the Confederates from Atlanta is the first piece of art purchased with this new fund. Future acquisitions will be selected by the committee, in alignment with the Gallery’s mission choose art that has a curricular focus.

“The goal is for the fund to be used for teaching purposes, scholarship and research by our own faculty, as well as for exhibits, so that it works in different ways to enhance the art program,” Birkner said. “This gift in the scheme of things is not a huge gift, but it is a starting point to add a new dimension to the art program at Gettysburg College. “

Birkner and Wagner's gift is part of Gettysburg Great, The Campaign for Our College. The campaign is a comprehensive effort to increase support for student scholarships, active learning opportunities like research and internships, faculty and teaching, a renovation of Plank Gymnasium, and the Gettysburg Fund.

About Schmucker Art Gallery

The 1,600-square-foot Schmucker Art Gallery is a lively art space that displays ten to eleven different exhibitions each year. Included in the gallery calendar are shows by local, national, and international contemporary artists, a faculty exhibition, a student exhibition, the annual senior art-major show, and exhibits of works selected from public and private collections. The Schmucker Art Gallery is located on the main floor of Schmucker Hall (conveniently located at the intersection of N. Washington and Water streets) and is fully accessible. Free parking is available in one of the visitor parking lots on campus, or free two-hour parking can be found on the streets adjacent to Schmucker Hall. The main entrance is through the quadrangle side of the building. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission and all events are free and open to the public.


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Nikki Rhoads, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Posted: Tue, 21 Jan 2014

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